Books: Academic Blight THE NEW HISTORY AND THE OLD

by Gertrude Himmelfarb Harvard University; 209 pages; $20

Gertrude Himmelfarb recalls meeting a young historian who described his work as being on the "cutting edge of the discipline." He was writing one of those infinitely detailed studies of the inhabitants of a New England town in the late 18th century, their working conditions, their attitudes, their sex lives. Himmelfarb asked how he connected his work to the major event of that period, the creation of the U.S. "He conceded," she writes, "that from his themes and sources -- parish registers, tax rolls, census reports, legal records, polling lists, land titles -- he could not 'get to,' as he said,...

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